The Concept of the Final Girl

Happy March Everyone. Since its inception in March 1980, March has largely been considered a month to celebrate Women’s History and Empowerment. We, at the Mustache and the Beard, want to be a part of that celebration. Consequently, many of our posts for this month will have a female-centric theme depicting women as the super-powered beings they appear to be.In that vein, I chose to analyze for this article the concept of the Final Girl.

Carol J. Clover wrote a book entitled Men, Women, and Chainsaws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film in 1992 where the term was first proposed as a cinematic convention. The term “Final Girl” is hers and it refers to an observed pattern that most slasher films of the 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s followed. (Forgive me, if sometimes I sound pedantic. As a teacher you always try to break things down to their simplest component parts.)

The pattern goes something like this: a group of teenagers meet someplace apart from the supervision of adults, to partake of alcohol and drugs, engage in sexual practices, and be killed one-by-one by a masked killer. Invariably, one teenager, usually female, who refrains from participating in the illicit parts of the adventure confronts the killer, and either vanquishes the killer, or escapes.

In The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974), the Final Girl, Sally Hardesty played extremely well by Marilyn Burns, is captured by the masked killer, Leatherface. Never mind, that up until this time, the killer only kills. He has not displayed the desire to capture, only destroy. We, as an audience, accept it. There’s something different about her. We want her to succeed. We root for her. There is something powerful that sets her apart. She is the first Final Girl.

Innocuous or unexplainable as that may be, Laurie Strode is easier. In Halloween (1978) the killer, Michael Myers is an unstoppable force that causes mayhem indiscriminately. However, it is the virginal Jamie Lee Curtis who is babysitting. She puts herself in front of the kids to protect them from this killer. Of course, we love her.

Followers of this blog have heard us talk about Save the Cat. Here she saves the kids. Of course, we love her. Of course we want her to survive. She literally does the most heroic thing a person can do. Despite being terrified, she realizes that she is responsible for the kids. So she tells them to hide when it’s time to hide, and tells them to run when it’s time to run. Regardless, Myers has to go through her to get to those kids. She deserves to be a Final Girl.

In Friday the 13th Part II, Ginny Field played by Amy Steel goes to Camp Crystal Lake as a student of child psychology. In trying to evade Jason, she hides under a bunk, and we in the audience roll our eyes, and say what a dumb blond. Jason is going to get you there. Jason is looking for her. He enters the room, just as a rat crawls in front of Ginny who is hiding, and trying to maintain absolute silence. When she urinates herself, I was thinking, “I think I would’ve pooped myself.” There is a moment of absolute empathy between the audience and Ginny before Jason drives a pitchfork through the bed.

Ginny does more, because when she runs through the forest, she finds the rundown cabin where Jason has been staying. Jason is a few steps behind her, when she ducks into the other room where Jason has built a shrine to his mother’s head. She is absolutely horrified, but she jumps to action, immediately putting on Pamela Voorhees’ sweater. She was told that she looks like Jason’s mom and so she tries to exploit that similarity, the way a child psychologist might. She isn’t quite as dumb as we thought she was. In fact, she’s frigging brilliant. She deserves to be a Final Girl. Interestingly enough, Amy Steel is now a psychologist.

I want to address the aspect of morality in these films. There seems to have been an emphasis placed on behavior that was moral and appropriate. The people that did drugs, died. The people that had premarital sex, were killed. That has changed due to the new sexual politics of the millennium. Although, I would submit that in the 90s when slashers were slowly dying, things were changing.

In Scream (1996) Sidney Prescott, amazingly well-played by Neve Campbell, tells her boyfriend that she’s not ready for sex. She asks him to settle for some PG action. Near the end, she gives up her virginity, under her terms; her choice. She manages to still survive. We don’t think any less of her. She is a young woman who has had to deal with a tremendous amount of adult-type trauma, and she chooses the circumstances and the moment she wishes to engage in sex, demonstrating not just her maturity, but that our horror movies have matured as well. Sidney Prescott deserves to be a Final Girl.

There is more to say on the subject, but I think this is a good starting point for our month of March celebration. As always, please, comment. Tell us what you liked or disliked. Push that LIKE button. If you have suggestions, suggest. Don’t forget to vote on the Haunted Hall of Fame The House of Whispers and Shadows.

There will be no videos this week, because we have some issues to deal with; regardless, we will continue to provide content for the days we ordinarily post — Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. See you later. Take it easy. Thanks for your support. Peace!

2 thoughts on “The Concept of the Final Girl

  1. Wow! This concept of “Final Girl” is fascinating. I’m amazed at how you go well beyond the mere watching, retelling and sharing your opinions to delve deep into the analysis of these horror movies. Moving forward when I watch I’ll ask myself why are they portraying this female in this way? Why is it important? How does this help her overcome her fear? … the killer? Thanks for sharing your insights with all of us Mustache!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. You’re welcome, LadyGeek! The weird thing is that one of the reasons that I LOVE these movies is because sometimes (not always, not even most of the time) these movies are more than they appear to be, and they resonate. I’m looking forward to more interactions. Take Care!


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